Thursday, November 5, 2015

power up

One of the Instagram challenges I’m participating in prompted participants to letter a modern convenience that we are grateful for. I’ve seen a few of the results and I wasn’t surprised to see smartphones and such, and I agree with those choices. My selection, however, is not quite as recent, and I know it’s one that we have taken for granted.

For nearly four years we have used solar panels to power our home. It’s been fantastic not having to pay a monthly bill for electricity, and it’s been particularly wonderful knowing we didn’t have to pay the $60,000 that was quoted to add company-provided power to our property. The obstacle we’ve had to face, however, has been a system that is too small.

We have nine 120-watt panels and eight batteries, together allowing 1kW of power per day. With care, that’s enough for a day of power, but it doesn’t allow for any reserves. That means that when it’s not sunny, we’re in trouble.

Our first winter was one without sun. We ran the generator daily to compensate. Last year was extraordinary because we used the generator just once. This year, however, is looking just like winter Number 1.

When it’s cloudy as often as it has been we have to turn off the refrigerator at night, we unplug computers and clock radios and anything else that might draw even teensy bits of power. We can’t use a microwave or even a toaster. Happily, our stove and oven are propane-based; otherwise I’d still be using the camp stove we got from Canadian Tire in the summer of 2011.

We don’t plan to live here beyond next July or we would have built on our system this fall. With a move in the works, however, we’re going to suck it up and live with what we have.

This kind of balancing act has taught me to appreciate flicking a switch without having to first calculate the impact it might have on the rest of my day.

In honor of electricity, here is the lettering piece I submitted to the challenge:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

learning to draw

I'm pretty proud of this apple. It's not fantastic - I'm not delusional, I swear - but I never could have done this before last night.

Here's how it started:

This page represents the first lesson of Learning to Draw, an illustration class led by Oksana Zhelisko at The Paint Spot in Edmonton. We used 2B and 4B pencils from the Gioconda Mini Art Set, pictured below.

We were to use pressure on the pencils to go from dark to light using a variety of shapes and techniques, including cross-hatching and wacky circling. It wasn't as easy as Oksana made it look on her sample page.

Every student agreed we'd have to practice these. I usually practice lettering and calligraphy while watching TV, so I'll just add this to my routine.

On the three-hour drive home last night I pondered how amazing and unexpected it is that I'm still interested in becoming an artist after so many months. Is it because I've not had to work full-time, allowing my interests to enter my heart more deeply without distraction? Is it because of the determination I'm cultivating? Is it because this is who I am? All I know is it's unusual: I've been passionate in the past about social media, poker, and cycling, for example, and I have even participated in some of those interest for a period of several years, but I have never felt this deeply about anything before. This feels more real, although I know that feelings shouldn't be given too much weight.

Ultimately, however, it's hard to imagine that I could become so much more skillful - relatively speaking - at something that I would eventually stop caring about. If that were to happen, mind you, I can at least be grateful that I've added those skills to my life.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


I have to put 600 more words to page today. I also have three lettering challenges to participate in, and I'm leaving home in about 45 minutes to attend the first of three illustration classes in Edmonton. It's going to be a big day.

The writing goal comes from Sean McCabe, who produces short, excellent, self-improvement videos at I've taken the goal on because writing is good for me. I want to do it more often than I have been doing. I want to move past the procrastination, the excuses, the doubt, and the fear of failure.

Having goals, I realize, provides some structure to my day. In fact, that's probably the biggest benefit I've noticed: I don't waste time moving aimlessly from one task to another, only to find at the end of the day I haven't really accomplished much. I have to fight distraction and stay focused. I feel good at the end of the day, even if I haven't completed everything from my list, because I know I've done the best I can.

I'm 50 years old and I'm telling myself it's not too late to start something new. Certainly that's one advantage of turning to art: nobody is going to refuse me entry into the field because entry depends entirely on my own efforts.

I experience moments and periods of doubt, and I've mentioned those in previous posts. But I have enough life experience to know that doubt can pass, that it can be overcome with effort and faith in myself. Every good letterer I've listened to has talked about practice, and practice is something I can do easily. I just have to make it a goal. And I have.

Two things frighten me, however; the first is the travel Sean and I will be doing as of the 22nd of this month. As excited as I am about spending time in Amsterdam, Johannesburg, and Rome, I am anxious about how little time I am likely to have for practice. My goal for that period is to have one hour a day to do something relevant; I hope that doesn't prove unreasonable or unattainable. I'll probably make it a morning practice to avoid the expectations of others.

The second source of anxiety will be more permanent: the work that I will be returning to in January 2016. Being at home full-time has provided me with incredible opportunities and advantages that will no longer be available to me once I'm working 40 hours a week. Again, I'll probably be limited to an hour a day. That's not much.

Sean McCabe has another practice that might help, however, if I can get my employer - who is unknown at this point - to agree to it. McCabe takes a sabbatical every six weeks. He works for six days a week, takes one day off, and after six weeks of that he takes a full week off. It amounts to the same amount of time worked and time off, but that full week of no professional obligations allows him to give significant attention to other interests. It's refreshing, and it's brilliant.

One way or another I want to stay on this path. I don't want to lose my way or forget how much lettering and Zentangle and creativity mean to me. If that were to happen, I would lose a valuable part of myself that has taken several months to cultivate and encourage.

Monday, November 2, 2015

second home

This morning I launch - or relaunch, more accurately - my Wordpress blog. It will focus entirely on lettering and I plan to contribute to it weekly at minimum.

My first post, which I have yet to write, will include a list of the resources I've accessed so far. Please contribute to the list if you can by sending me an email at or by posting a reply to the post once it's up. The blog can be found at

This blog will continue as an outlet for more personal thoughts and for non-lettering projects I pursue, including Zentangle. Again, I plan to publish a new post at least once a week.

My goal is to have a regular writing practice. I got the idea from Sean McCabe, a prominent letterer and highly-focused business owner. Sean writes 3,000 - 5,000 words every morning, he produces a podcast, short daily videos, and hosts live classes occasionally. He’s also got a remarkable series of hand-lettering lessons, and he’s responsible for an active community of equally motivated people.

Like anyone else would, I have high hopes for this practice. The challenge will be to keep the commitment to write every day, and as we all know, that’s easier said than done. Encouraging words - and the occasional cattle prod - are welcome and invited!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

disaster and doubt

As a complete beginner, making bad art isn't a surprise to me; but I can't help but wonder if I'm a fool for thinking that I can develop these skills at such a late age.

When I tackled my most recent project - a Day 11 Zentangle on Artist Trading Card using Pentel Color Brushes in black and in gray (the latter for shading) - I approached it with a fresh attitude: my previous Zentangles had been about filling spaces and getting the work 'done'. This time. I would open my mind to the possibilities of the card and I would let something from within guide me towards creativity.

The tangles should flow on the card, I decided, so I started with Fescu at the top. Despite having practiced with the color brushes in my sketchbook before touching the ATC, Fescu went very wrong when I tried drawing the third one as though it had wrapped around the second.

That's when the nausea set in.

I'd already torn up one ATC that I'd barely begun, something that should *never* happen in the Zentangle practice:

There are no mistakes in Zentangle, so there is no need for an eraser.

That's from Beckah Krahula, author of One Zentangle A Day: A 6-Week Course in Creative Drawing for Relaxation, Inspiration, and Fun. Her book is my Zentangle guide.

Today, I'm not sure I agree with her about mistakes. Take a look at the disaster that is my second Day 11 ATC:

Fescu Number 2 seems to be sporting a hula hoop. And Purk, in the right hand top-most corner, looks like a bad slice of pizza. I still can't make Flux (bottom right) look 'alive', and tossing the Echoism variation between Festune (bottom left) and Flukes (the diamond-like one), doesn't look natural at all. I was trying for that sense of flow but it still looks like I was just filling empty spaces.

Oh, and notice the smudging on the right side of the card? My black color brush tends to be a little inconsistent with *its* flow and I clearly moved my finger through a still-wet spot.


The one positive - because I have to find one - is I love how dark the ink is. It's very rich, even if the scan doesn't show that well.

About the rest, I'm not being picky, I swear. Here are some other icky productions:

Learning to do a dry on wet watercolor wash didn't go very well. I used eight 9 x 12 pieces of watercolor paper - including one very expensive piece of Arches hot press - before giving up and seeking some YouTube videos on the topic. I found one particularly helpful because I learned I could tip my paper to make excess paint flow into the spaces where I was getting streaks.

My ninth attempt at the dry wash (and a few wet on wets), was much, much better.

The good (with notations):

The bad and the ugly:

Arches paper

Canson paper

Very streaky.

But that's not all. There was my stamping project/obsession using Tombow Dual Brush Pens.

I was trying to practice the "Stamp and Blend" technique from Brush Marker Magic by Marie Browning. The idea is to paint the ridges of an outline stamp with appropriately-colored Tombows, stamp your paper to transfer the paint, then use the Tombow colorless blender to "pull the color from the stamped lines into the open areas...".

I used a stamp called "Softly" from Penny Black that I had purchased at R & R Scrapbooking.

I tried and I tried to Stamp and Blend. I experimented with several different kinds of paper - even photo paper! - and each result was either boring or icky.

That's when I turned to Google and found this:

Absolutely beautiful.

I switched up my colors, and that's when things really went to hell in a handbasket.

The photo paper disaster. The ink dries almost immediately, so blending isn't really an option.

This one looked so boring I added a halo and a wash. Ick.

Still trying to get the right orange. This one turned into practice paper.

My stamps crossed where they shouldn't have. Adding paint to the trouble spot was a 'nope'.

Crossed a leaf again.

Wash with no halo still didn't work.

It was time to find out how the cardmaker had done it. I went to Heather Telford's blog, and that's when I realized that Stamp and Blend wasn't going to get me where I wanted. Only painting would. I added the Antique Linen Distress Ink Heather used for stamping to my wish list of supplies and eventually found it in marker format at The Scrapmobile in Calgary.

Then I set myself to identifying the Tombow colors I wanted by testing them on a scrap of the same paper I'd be painting.

I'm not sure it's finished, but the current product isn't bad.

I still think there's too much white, but once I rehearse how it looks against cardstock I may find it's okay. I may also try some simple embellishments, if the right ones cross my path. Of course, I'm open to suggestions! The finished piece is intended as part of a congratulatory card for an expecting friend, complete with a message written in calligraphy ... once I learn calligraphy.

So I may not be good, but I *am* persistent. I just hope persistent gets me to good.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

bookmarked: the story of a personal emblem

On Day 8 of One Zentangle A Day: A 6-Week Course in Creative Drawing for Relaxation, Inspiration, and Fun, I was introduced to Vega.

An amazing drawing from the All Things Tangled blog:
I saw Vega as a bejeweled bangle and I wanted to make it into a ribbon-shaped emblem for myself. The journey was a little messy and awkward, but I persisted (I couldn't help myself), and finally created what was in my mind.

The Day 8 tile, featuring Vega, Purk, Tipple, Flux, Printemps, Nekton, Amaze
First attempt at turning Vega into a ribbon. Ick. Tile also features Jonqal, Poke Root, Printemps, and Hollibaugh.

Trying again, this time on a black tile using a white Sakura Gelly Roll pen. The ribbon is better, but still goofy.

Not-so-charmed third effort. Tried various colored Gelly Roll pens.
What bothered me the most making these drawings was my sense that the design on the ribbon wasn't following the laws of physics (or whatever the principle is that determines how things appear when they are bent like this). I did some real world studies using some clear piping we had kicking around, and then I cheated (Zentangle is all about spontaneity and acceptance), by actually drawing my ribbon first using pencil.

I was very happy with the result. Finally.

The background of the bookmark also features Tipple, Isochor, Flux, Hollibaugh, Poke Root, Purk, and Printemps.

I painted the ribbon with Tombow brush markers.

I'm also happy I can stop thinking about this particular project. There's another obsession - a stamping-related one - I have to get out of my head now.